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The straw man is the friend of every disingenuous pundit, politician and soap box preacher. It allows them to avoid the argument that faces them in favour of one they invent out of thin air, and to debate that instead. Indeed, the straw man allows Piers Morgan to habitually shout at and berate his Good Morning Britain guests, and then spend the rest of the day on Twitter relishing in some erroneous and deeply misguided sense of victory.
Today, Ash Sarkar, a Senior Editor at left-wing website Novara Media and member of the Stop Trump Coalition, did a sterling job of both shining a light on and undermining Piers’ straw man antics. She appeared on GMB to put forward the argument for the protests surrounding Trump’s current visit to the UK.
Of course, Morgan, in timely fashion, immediately ignored the nuance of any political dispute and of the issues that 67% of the British public have with Trump’s presidency and ran headlong into one of his favoured fallacious comparisons. Morgan asked Sarkar twenty one times whether she knew how many illegal immigrants Obama deported during his presidency.
With a look that howled her resignation at Piers’ boobery on air, and her exhaustion at his twittery, Sarkar told the presenter, over and over again, that she didn’t know the figure – and not only that she didn’t know, but that she was actually a staunch critic Obama, and was invited on the show to discuss Trump’s, not Obama’s presidency.
Even more inflammatory, Piers asked the guest to guess, time and time again, how many illegal immigrants Obama deported. The reason is obvious – Piers hopes that Ash would guess some number that was paltry in comparison to the real figure, which he was simply salivating to whip out.
The stupid attraction of Morgan’s tactics are clear. The argument is, essentially – “well, Obama also did bad things but I don’t think you protested him as much as you are Trump and therefore you shouldn’t be protesting Trump”. However, it’s nonsense.
Of course, there is a point in there. The point is that there is a perception of outrage around Trump far more widespread and far more enflaming that there ever was around Obama.
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) July 12, 2018
This is in spite of the fact that, as Piers rightly noted, under Obama’s charge, indefinite detention in squalid conditions of immigrant families in the US skyrocketed. Though, it is worth noting that Obama was reacting to a real terms vast increase in the amount of new arrivals at the US’s southern border. Nonetheless, Barack’s border policy was punitive. Equally, family separations occurred under Obama, though they were not a matter of standard practice.
It is in spite of the fact also that Obama failed, most ingloriously, to close Guantanamo Bay. Such a promise – which reflected a relief of the hangover of a militaristic and torrid time under a terroristic-obsessed Bush – was supposed to be a cornerstone of Obama’s legacy. Instead, 40 detainees being left in the barbaric, anachronistic facility was the legacy.
It is also in spite of the fact that Obama continued and inflated the covert drone strike policy of his predecessor. Indeed, ten times more drone strikes were carried out under Obama than under Bush – that’s more in Barack’s first year in office than throughout Bush’s entire presidency.
Finally, it is in spite of the fact that Obama did nothing to redress the rampant, explosive inequality in the USA. He did nothing to redirect the inexorable flow of wealth continually upwards. He continued the bail-out of Wall Street commenced by his predecessor and he continued to refuse help to people caught short by bad mortgages – one of the prime causes of the 2008 crash.
In the light of these and other unmentioned of Obama’s sins, it is justifiable to say that he got away with it merely because he looked suave in a suit and he spoke impeccably. He was the shining, smiley happy face of neoliberalism writ large. Indeed, he was in many ways abominable and all the more abominable for being so charming. Now, that same monster has a new face and it is one that drips tanning solution, gurns, and pulls asshole shapes with its lips.
It becomes tempting, then, to shout “hypocrisy” at those protesting Trump, when the feeling is that Obama faced none of the same flack.
However, this belies the nuance. Indeed, it is a nuance that has not escaped the attention of Ash:
Donald Trump is a racist and an utter boob, but let's not pretend he invented either tendency.
— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) January 12, 2018
No one is saying that Trump is the worst of all evil and unprecedented in his presidency. What he is, though, is easy to target – and it makes his evils easy to quantify, to box and to target also.
In many ways, then, Trump is a blessing. Diseases can run rampant and undetected throughout a body for years. It is not until boils begin to appear or our skin blisters that we notice them and take action. That is what Trump is. He is the symptom; the symptom that is galvanising nations to see an ideological doctor. He is a boil.
Certainly, one can see the merit in an argument that the inflatable Trump baby is a juvenile and whiny, inconsequential protest by a nation over whom Trump does not even have charge. That is, aside from the extent to which our genuflecting leader wishes to curtsy and sell-out to get a post-Brexit trade deal.
"Moral outrage doesn't work with Donald Trump" but "he really hates being mocked" – "Trump Baby" blimp organizer: pic.twitter.com/5LHKW87C8J
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) July 11, 2018
However, it must be remembered that a protest in a nation of 60million people, that will be broadcast over a world of 7billion, needs to be easily encapsulated. What matters is the discussion that the protest generates; the debates that undergird it; the movements that are galvanised by it. In addition, it is, of course, each and every one of our inalienable rights to protest and to air our grievances with a president who has routinely and habitually undermined and muddied the sanctity of the office he holds.
Piers Morgan’s straw man arguments are infuriating, certainly. They are also, though, like Trump, a blessing. For in highlighting the sins of the Obama presidency, Piers makes the Left’s case for it. It is not a man that the socialists of our generation march against, and it is not a man they seek to repair the ills of our societies. It is the neoliberal cancer that is being protested. Trump is simply its current figurehead.
Likewise, in Britain, it is not Jeremy Corbyn who is lauded by the youth of Britain, it is the idea and the ideology he personifies; and to rip off a writer greater than I, “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. All the straw men in the world cannot stand in the way of that.